Why Match Game Is The Best Game Show Ever

(I had some pieces I’ve written over the years clogging up my desktop. They were all pieces that got accepted by websites but for one reason or another didn’t end up running. I figured I might as well put them up somewhere. Some of them are a little dated. For example, this piece is from a world where the new Match Game had not yet been announced.)

Earlier this year, the new channel Buzzr launched. It is a channel dedicated to showing classic game shows. Basically, it’s what the Game Show Network was when it debuted, before it turned its attention to creating its own game shows. While game shows are not as popular as they once were, there are still a select few that air essentially every weekday, and the existence of Buzzr shows that there is a market for classic games that no longer exist. However, of all the game shows, which is the best? Upon watching some Buzzr recently, and upon giving a great deal of thought to this question, one answer emerged. The best game show? That would be Match Game.

There are two main components that go into making a quality game show. These are entertainment factor and playability. The entertainment factor deals with how amusing and enjoyable the atmosphere of the show is. Are there funny people on it, is the host entertaining, and so on. Playability is, of course, the ability for the home viewer to play along while watching the show. This is important, because, otherwise, your show is not particularly engaging, and it can lead to downtime.

Take, for example, Wheel of Fortune. You can play along, which is good, but if you solve the puzzle before anybody on the show, you can find yourself sitting, waiting for somebody to figure it out so you can move on. Since the show doesn’t have much in the way of the entertainment factor, this becomes dull. Then, there are the shows you can’t really play along with at all, or aren’t fun to play. Some games you can play, like Password, but only if you don’t watch the screen, which is weird. It’s a fun game to play, but it doesn’t make for good viewing.

Jeopardy! is, obviously, the quintessential game show when it comes to playability. It’s actually challenging, at least when celebrities or kids aren’t on, and it’s fast paced. It’s trivia question after trivia question. As soon as one is answered, there’s another one coming. You can play it just as well as the people actually on the show. This makes Jeopardy! one of the best game shows. However, it is the epitome of substance over style. It’s a fairly sterile show. Alex Trebek is a fine host, but beyond playing trivia, there is nothing to it. Plus, when they do something else, namely talk to the contestants, it’s always death.

The reason Match Game is the best game show is because it blends these two aspects perfectly. If you are not familiar with the show, here is a brief synopsis of the gameplay, at least when it comes to Match Game as most people think of it. The show actually had a few different lives, with some tweaks to it, but we’re talking “classic” Match Game here, the way it was played from its 90s heyday on. You have two contestants, and a panel of six celebrities. The host provides a prompt with a fill-in-the-blank scenario. Something like “Dumb Dora was so dumb, when she went fishing she used [blank] for bait.” One of the contestants provides an answer, and they get a point for every panelist they match. The winner of this round them plays a solo round where they try and match one of the top three audience answers for a fill-in-the-blank. Then, they have a chance to triple their money from that round by matching one of the panelists straight up. That contestant then goes back to face another opponent, and will do so until they lose a round.

Match Game allows you to play along. You can come up with your own answer for all the blanks. You can either come up with your own best answer, or try and guess what the contestant, or the panelists, will say. While it isn’t as fast paced, or quite as engaging, as Jeopardy!, there is plenty of playability when you watch at home. Plus, it’s interesting to see what people will say to fill the blanks. However, the show is also very entertaining beyond simply playing along. You’ve got the panelists cracking jokes. While they fill out their answers there is chatter and tomfoolery, and also, at least in the 70s version, a catchy theme song. In truth, it should be noted that when referring to Match Game as the best game show, this is particularly true of the 70s variation. While the gameplay and format of the game is what is being assessed here, it was at its peak in the 70s. Oh, also about half the prompts are just begging for a bawdy answer. You get way more double entendres than you get from Alex Trebek, that’s for sure.

While there were a couple of 90s versions of Match Game, they didn’t quite hit the same level as the show’s run from 1973 until 1979. In fact, we should probably localize that even further to the point when Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Richard Dawson were all staples of the panel. While Somers and Reilly were there for their humor, Dawson was essentially the king of the panel. Basically every time somebody had to pick one of the celebrities for their head-to-head match game, they chose Dawson. Additionally, true Hollywood legends like Betty White and Marcia Wallace showed up sometimes.

Of course, the most important element of a game show when it comes to the entertainment factor is the host, and for many years Match Game had Gene Rayburn, who was great. He was a weird, wild eyed dude who was always cajoling people and keeping spirits high. He would show genuine, but good-natured, disdain for bad answers from contestants. Whenever the show asked the contestants a little about themselves, it was usually awful, because that’s how it goes with game shows, but Rayburn knew how to get a little something out of those situations.

It’s a shame that the best game show of all-time is no longer currently on television, at least in the United States. Both Canada and Indonesia have their own versions of Match Game going, but the United States should really get back on that horse. While a lot of the previous paragraphs was dedicated to speaking specifically to elements exclusive to the 70s version, that doesn’t mean, in the abstract sense, those qualities can’t be replicated. The playability is still there. The potential for humor and entertainment is still there. All you need is a solid host and good panelists. While we’ve got the opportunity to watch old episodes on Buzzr, it’d be nice to get some new episodes. Episodes that don’t require you to have an extensive knowledge of Evel Knievel’s legal problems in the late 70s to play along. Plus, Betty White is still around, if they wanted her.